Cross Plains Motel — Red Friggin’ Alert

OK, listen up: I just found out that the Motel 36 in Cross Plains is under new management. The guy behind the desk seems nice enough, and it looks here as if he has been doing some remodeling and making the rooms there better than ever. But here’s the rub: HE DOESN’T HAVE THE RESERVATION BOOK WE ALL SIGNED UP IN LAST JUNE. That means that all of you out there who have been secure in the knowledge that you have a June reservation for Howard Days, YOU DON’T.

I rebooked my own reservation, and apparently about five of the other rooms are already re-booked, leaving ten or so left. If you are one of those people who likes staying in town during Howard Days, I highly recommend you call the Motel immediately and re-book, before it’s too late.

The number for the Motel 36 is: (254)725-4550. If you are planning to attend the Thursday field trip to Fort McKavett and Enchanted Rock State Park with us, you should book for Wednesday through Sunday, four nights in all.

The guy at the motel sounds real sorry about the mix-up, but he simply doesn’t have that book anymore — the one the old managers gave him ran only to May. So hurry, give him a call, and re-book your reservation today. You’ve been warned.

(Thanks to Cimmerian reader Tom Verhaaren for alerting me to this state of events. All of you who get your rooms back in time owe him a beer this June).

PS — for those of you who own RVs, the Motel now has an “RV Park” for you to use, complete with hookups, etc.

Project Pride — the official charity of the 2006 World Fantasy Convention


The following blurb is slated to appear in the forthcoming volume Cross Plains Universe: Texans Celebrate Robert E. Howard, the book that will be given away to attendees at the 2006 World Fantasy Convention:

World Fantasy is proud to celebrate the life and literature of Robert E. Howard during our 2006 Convention. Robert E. Howard is the creator of Conan the Cimmerian, and this anthology is a tribute to the heroic fantasy tradition he helped create. If you would like to help preserve Howard’s legacy and honor Howard’s contributions to fantasy literature, please support Project Pride, the non-profit institution that maintains Robert E. Howard’s family home and heritage in Cross Plains, TX. Project Pride can be found on the Web at:, or mailed at Project Pride, PO Box 534, Cross Plains, TX 76443.

As always, Project Pride accepts donations of any size, and uses them to provide upkeep to the Howard Museum. New paint, roof, paving, and fire repair have all been required in the past, and every donation helps. If you can, toss a few pazoors their way this centennial year, and help keep Howard’s legacy alive.

Busy summer for Howard Museum

The following article appeared on the front page of the Cross Plains Review dated Thursday, August 10, 2006. It was written by Cimmerian contributor Arlene Stephenson (“The Fire That Spread Around the World,” V3n2). And Danny Street, the Englishman mentioned in the article, has a nice piece coming up in the August Cimmerian, not about his Cross Plains trip but about some Howard research he’s been conducting in the UK.

Visitors Continue to Tour Howard House Museum

July proved to be a great month for the Howard House Museum as it was shown 12 times to a total of 20 visitors. Two couples from England came to the USA specifically to visit Cross Plains and the Museum, as did a family from Germany and two couples from Canada. The fellows in these groups are dedicated Howard scholars and were thrilled to see where their hero had written the bulk of his stories. Project Pride members giving the tours continue to be amazed at what we learn from these folks — it seems they know as much about the house and a whole lot more about Howard than we do.

Other visitors were from Washington D.C., CA, Boston, Austin, Houston, Ft. Worth, Palestine, Abilene, Cisco and Moran. Visitors continue to be amazed at all our small community has to offer; never have they seen such a well cared for little museum and never have they found so many good places to eat in a town of this size. Danny Street, a chef in a 4 star restaurant in England, was particularly impressed with everything he and his wife ate during their three day stay in town.

submitted by Arlene Stephenson

Some Howardian love in The Cross Plains Review


The June 22 number of the Review has just hit Californian shores, and contains a glowing article on Howard Days by Project Pride correspondent Arlene Stephenson. Cimmerian readers well remember Arlene’s article “The Fire That Spread Around the World” for V3n2 (February 2006), which contained a host of harrowing and uplifting stories from the Cross Plains Fire that didn’t make the front page of the CNN website, or for that matter any of the usual Howardian venues. Here she gives a flavorful small-town spin on the centennial proceedings that accurately captures the mood of the event.

“Censational” Centennial Celebration

by Arlene Stephenson, The Cross Plains Review, June 22, 2006

How does one measure the success of an event? By the number of people in attendance? By the number of volunteers involved in making it happen? By the variety of programs and activities offered? By the geographic scope of states and communities represented? By the comments of those in attendance?

By any of these standards, the recent Robert E. Howard Centennial Days were an outstanding success. Scholars and fans came to Cross Plains to experience a few hours or a few days with other folks having the same interest in one of the greatest pulp fiction writers ever to put words on paper. From the first guest to arrive from Washington D.C. to the last guest from Eastland, a steady stream of visitors filed through the local library and the Howard House Museum. In that body of visitors, one could hear conversations in Swedish and German; exchanges with British and Canadian accents and even the accents from the Carolinas and Maryland were interesting to our Texas ears.

Number wise, some interesting facts came to light. The registration book at the Museum showed that 240 people had registered from 22 states, Washington D.C. and the four countries mentioned above. The Library hosted one panel discussion that drew way beyond a “standing room only” crowd. Librarian Cherry Shults and Board Member James Warlick were extremely impressed with the patience and tolerance of the group as they just kept squeezing closer and closer together to learn what they could about working with Howard manuscripts. And the scholarly crowd was just as impressed with the collection of Howard’s works housed in the library.

Several of the authors in the group donated a variety of new materials to the library. One such donation was about 35 books from the collection of Sprague de Camp. Although most of these are in other languages, they will be invaluable for research as scholars compare Sprague’s work with the more authenticated interpretations of Howard’s writings.

At the Howard House Museum, the gift shop was overflowing with publications of dozens of writers and illustrators featuring Howard’s poetry, boxing stories, Texas humor, artwork, and of course the better-known Conan stories. Project Pride volunteers were kept busy making sales and keeping the shelves stocked. The constant flow of visitors through the Museum kept another group of volunteers welcoming guests and giving guided tours. And yet other volunteers kept the ice water and refreshments flowing at the hospitality center in the pavilion.

Cornelius Kappabani from Germany was heard many times commenting, “This has been such a wonderful weekend in a wonderful little community; thank you so much.”

The Library and Project Pride agree that the Howard Days are definitely the most interesting projects that they sponsor. Each year more and more resources are donated to the library, and thus, more and more out-of-town visitors come to utilize these resources. The reputation of Project Pride and their efforts in maintaining Howard’s home and perpetuating his influence in the world of creative writing just keeps spreading in an ever-widening circle around the world.

Both of the local groups extend a heartfelt message of appreciation to all the volunteers who helped make the weekend so successful and to the community for making all our visitors feel so welcome.

New phone numbers for Project Pride

You can find them over at the REHupa Website. Please update your records.

Howard Days 2006 Trip Reports Online

A few bloggers who attended Howard Days have posted pics and commentary for your edification.


Over at Rough Edges, prolific author James Reasoner has his report. James is a Howard Days regular, having attended for many years now, so he gives a veteran’s take on the festivities.


Meanwhile, professional horror writers Christopher Fulbright (We Have Returned…) and his wife Angeline Hawkes (Back from R. E. Howard Days and More Pictures of Robert E. Howard Days) have their own takes on the event, complete with many photos. Christopher attended a few years ago (you can read his trip report of that one here), but this was Angeline’s first time.

Cornelius continues to tear up Texas


Just heard an update from Ethan Nahté, the Dallas man working on a Howard documentary, on the continuing American adventurers of Cornelius Kappabani, leader of the German band Bifrost, who came all the way from across the pond to attend Howard Days this year, and who put on Cross Plains’ first-ever German New Age/punk/heavy metal performance of tunes set to Howard’s poetry.

Ethan says, “We’ve been showing Cornelius a good time. Took him to a party last night to play guitars. He stayed the night with us last night and tonight. We live next to the airport so we’re taking him to catch his flight Monday morning and ship him back to Germany.”

Texas will never be the same again.

Robert E. Howard Days Goes National

This year’s centennial edition of the annual Robert E. Howard Days was a big success. Pick up a copy of the July 2006 (V3n7) issue of The Cimmerian for full coverage. An AP reporter wrote an article about the event which was picked up by CNN, USA Today, and other national venues:

Fire-ravaged town rebuilds, proceeds with celebration of Conan creator

Updated 6/10/2006 9:02 PM ET

By Angela K. Brown, The Associated Press

CROSS PLAINS, Texas — Along Main Street near a feed store and senior citizens’ center emerges Conan the Barbarian, his dark hair flowing past his broad shoulders and his muscular arms clutching a sword dripping with blood.

It’s certainly an unexpected sight in a rural West Texas community, but the library building mural symbolizes the town’s claim to fame: native son Robert E. Howard, the character’s creator.

Every June for the past 20 years or so, people from around the world have trekked here to attend lectures about Howard. They also tour the white clapboard house where he sat at a small wooden desk, peered out of the window at the peaceful West Texas prairie and on his Underwood typewriter spun tales of sword-wielding heroes in faraway places and centuries.

For this year, what would have been Howard’s 100th birthday, organizers had been planning to expand the celebration to three days in hopes of attracting up to 300 fans, triple the attendance of recent years.

But nearly six months ago a wildfire ravaged this rural community, killing two women and destroying a church, 90 homes and thousands of acres. The flames also came within 3 feet of the Howard home’s front steps.

As Cross Plains started rebuilding, folks decided to forge ahead with the festival plans — not only to help the town get back to normal but also to give it a much-needed financial boost.

“I had no doubt that the Howard Days would go on,” said Rusty Burke, a member of the Robert E. Howard United Press Association, which studies the author’s life and works. “I knew people would want to come, and thought, ‘We need to do what we can to keep the money in Cross Plains.'”

The event helps the local economy, although some Howard fans spend the night elsewhere because the town doesn’t have many hotel rooms. Still, Burke said, he nixed plans for a banquet in a nearby city with bigger facilities because he wanted all activities in Cross Plains.

Now, green grass and new houses have sprouted up all over town. The only reminders of the Dec. 27 tragedy are a few empty parcels, neat and void of debris, and the First United Methodist Church brick sign on a large vacant lot.

Although the Howard house was spared in the blaze, a fire truck plowed through part of its white picket fence as firefighters rushed to help a neighbor douse the building to protect it. The fence was repaired in time for Robert E. Howard Days, which started Thursday, and fresh grass has grown over the once-blackened lawn.


Cross Plains hasn’t always embraced its most famous native son, who some called “crazy” for his wild tales, talking to himself and sometimes pretending to box while walking down the street. Those negative feelings intensified for some after he committed suicide at age 30 after learning that his ailing mother would not awaken from her coma.

Although many assume Howard was distraught because he was too close to his mother, signs indicate he had been considering suicide — although he had several close friends — and shot himself in the head when he no longer had to tend to his mother, Burke said. She died the next day.

But his popularity grew as his works were reprinted in magazines and subsequently published in paperbacks in the 1960s Then his Conan character — a thief, mercenary and pirate who slayed dragons, winged apes and savage tribes on his way to becoming a king thousands of years before recorded history — was featured in comic books in the 1970s.

Howard’s work inspired the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game and later led to a series of movies starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.

While the plot of the 1982 movie Conan the Barbarian differed from Howard’s tales — which, like his stories about other characters, had been published only in Weird Tales and other magazines before his death — it widened the audience and made Conan part of pop culture.

Through the years fans went to Cross Plains expecting to tour Howard’s house, and when they were turned away by the annoyed homeowners, a few visitors tore off pieces of the fence as souvenirs.

Seeing an opportunity for historic preservation and tourism, a newly formed community group called Project Pride bought Howard’s rundown former house in 1989. The volunteer members pooled their money for the down payment, then held bake and garage sales and sought donations from out-of-town Howard fans.

But the $10,000 mortgage wasn’t the only expense. Much work — including removing the carpet and paneling installed by latter residents — was involved in restoring the house to its 1930s appearance.

The first Howard Days was in 1986, the 50th anniversary of Howard’s death, a year after Burke and some friends first visited Cross Plains. The next event was in 1989 and has been held every year since with help from Project Pride, and attendance has grown from a dozen to nearly 100 people.

At first, the farming community mostly of retirees didn’t know what to make of the self-proclaimed “sci-fi geeks and fantasy fans,” some with long hair and tattoos. But the town realized how much the event helped the economy and now welcomes the guests — who include teachers, doctors and businessmen.

“It’s kind of like a family reunion,” said Susan McNeel, a lifelong Cross Plains resident and Project Pride secretary. “It’s fun for the local people to see people they haven’t seen in a year or a few years.”

Organizers and fans say they are glad Cross Plains, about 115 miles west of Fort Worth, has recovered and the celebration was able to proceed this year.

“Howard was a very prolific, vivid writer, and people who like adventure get into his writing,” said Burke, an aptitude testing organization director in Washington, D.C. “Fans like to see where a writer worked. The first time I came here, there were no exotic jungles, and I thought how little he had to work with, but now I’ve come to see how he took certain things and used his imagination.”

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


Birthday Party in Cross Plains — Brownwood Bulletin

Era Lee Hanke of Project Pride has been busy advertising the 2006 Robert E. Howard Days festival. Here’s an article that ran in the Brownwood Bulletin for Monday, April 17 2006:

Birthday party in Cross Plains
Robert E. Howard centennial celebration planned for June
By Gene Deason
Brownwood Bulletin

CROSS PLAINS – Fans of fantasy fiction writer Robert E. Howard have been returning to his hometown for 20 years, but Cross Plains is expecting the largest crowd ever in June for the centennial of the author’s birth.

“A centennial celebration is only going to happen once in your lifetime, so you don’t want to miss it,” said Era Lee Hanke, president of Cross Plains Project Pride.

Howard created the fantasy hero Conan, who decades later captivated a new generation in the 1982 movie “Conan the Barbarian.”

She said the Robert E. Howard United Press Association is joining the organization she leads in co-hosting the annual Robert E. Howard Days. The amateur press association founded in 1972 is dedicated to the study and discussion of Howard and his writings.

Registration forms and a tentative schedule of events for the three-day centennial set June 8-10 were mailed to interested individuals last week.

Featured as guests of honor at this year’s event will be Glenn Lord and Roy Thomas.

The agenda is still being finalized, but among the scheduled activities are the viewing of Howard Payne University’s Howard book collection, a bus and walking tours of Cross Plains, a reading by Howard biographer [redacted] from his new book, a screening of a portion of a Howard documentary by Ethan Nahté, tours of the Howard homestead museum and panel discussions by a group of Howard scholars.

Howard was born in January 1906 in Peaster, but he lived in Cross Plains while he was creating his literature. He committed suicide on June 11, 1936.

Lord is perhaps the most universally recognized and admired figure in Howard fandom. For nearly half a century he has been championing Howard and his work, from his landmark publication of the first REH poetry collection, “Always Comes Evening” (Arkham House, 1959) and his legendary REH fanzine, “The Howard Collector” (1960-1972), through over 30 years as the literary agent for the owners of Howard’s works, to his current involvement in working with the editors of the Wandering Star/Del Rey and Wildside Press Howard books, and the forthcoming updating of his monumental bio-bibliography, The Last Celt (Donald M. Grant, 1976). Lord has mentored two generations of REH fans, scholars and editors, and was one of the attendees at the Robert E. Howard Memorial Gathering, the first official Robert E. Howard Day in Cross Plains, in 1986.

Thomas was the driving force behind Marvel’s comic book “Conan the Barbarian” in 1970, and for 10 years and 115 issues — in collaboration with artists such as Barry Windsor-Smith, Gil Kane, John Buscema and others — he set the standard for the depiction of Howard’s Cimmerian hero in a visual medium. The award-winning comic spawned many others, and through such magazines as Savage Tales, Savage Sword of Conan, Kull and the Barbarians, Kull the Conqueror, Roy introduced thousands of new readers to Conan and to Howard’s other characters and stories, including Solomon Kane, Bran Mak Morn, and various horror tales. In addition, he constantly reminded his readers that these stories were based on the work of Howard.

His addition of nonfiction articles about Howard and his fiction helped introduce them to the originals, and contributed to the growth of Howard fandom and the “Howard boom” of the 1970s. After several years away, Thomas returned to Conan and the characters of Robert E. Howard in the 1990s, working with Marvel, Dark Horse, and Cross Plains Comics. His afterwords to Dark Horse’s current reprints of the original Conan the Barbarian issues (The Chronicles of Conan) offer informative backstage glimpses into the creation of this milestone comic. In addition to comics, Thomas has worked on adaptations of Conan into film, television and animation.

Information about the Robert E. Howard Centennial is available on the Web at

More Cross Plains Fire Stories

In the Cross Plains Review for March 16, 2006 there was a good story on the December 27, 2005 Cross Plains fire that devastated the town. The article is reprinted below for your edification:

Man With Ties to Cross Plains Writes His Take on the Wildfire

Editor’s Note: Cleve Wiese, a graduate journalism student at New York University (NYU), wrote this story after visiting Cross Plains in the days following the fire. He is the son of Larry and Patricia (better known as Sissy Barr) Wiese and the grandson of the late Clara Nell Spencer.

CROSS PLAINS, TX-Hollis Sherrell recalled fighting the flames with a garden hose as they approached his back yard. Finally realizing the futility of this defense, he climbed in his old pickup and, with the tank of pure oxygen he relies on to breathe situated in the seat next to him, made his way along a once peaceful country lane turned tunnel-of-fire.
“Boy, I told that truck, you better keep running because if you don’t, me and you both are sunk,” he said.

When, despite overpowering heat and blinding smoke, he finally made it to relative safety, he said he noticed something forgotten in the pickup-bed: an open container of gasoline.

Stories of death-defying heroics and miraculous escapes like Sherrell’s have abounded in Cross Plains in the days since devastating wildfires wreaked havoc on the quiet community on Dec. 27, destroying (according to Red Cross estimates) 116 homes and killing two people.

Immediately after the fire, the town looked like a war zone. Random details sporadically leapt out from scenes of general destruction: a strand of Christmas lights dangling from a caved-in carport, a pair of charred bicycles neatly laid in front of a gutted house, a blackened cross rescued from the rubble of the destroyed Methodist Church. The pastures along Highway 36, where the fire began, had turned to seas of black dotted by gray piles of ash-once hay bales.

But, even then, the predominate mood in the town seemed to be one of hope, even gratitude. A sign in front of one local church read, “Lord, as bad as it is, it could have been so much worse. We are thankful.”

In Connie Kirkham’s main street beauty shop, just three days after her home was destroyed, Mary Jones wanted to talk about the one thing she’d miraculously recovered: her pet. At her job as a cashier in the local grocery store, mere hours after leaving her house had burned, Jones happened to overhear a city worker mention a dog saved near Jones’s property and sleeping in his truck. She immediately closed her register, despite a line of customers, and went outside to verify the good news. The dog was hers.
“We thought she’d died in the fire because it came so fast,” she said. “We call her the little miracle dog.”

Ed Duncan, standing in front of the home he’d saved with a garden hose, casually recounted the death-defying extraction of a keg of black powder from a burning shed filled with firearms.

“(My son) sprayed me with water while I went in there to get it,” he said, “I knew it’d blow out our windows and probably our neighbor’s too.”

Insurance company representatives were a common sight around town in the days following the fire. Some, emotions overriding official capacity, were clearly over-whelmed by the carnage before them.

“Our insurance man cried today,” said one resident.

But not everyone could rely on insurance policies to help them recover.

“I’d just guess probably 30 percent of (the fire victims) didn’t have any insurance,” said Rolan Jones, Justice of the Peace. “Some of them had insurance but not enough to cover losses, and some of the ones I’ve talked to ,were well insured.”

For many, West Texas culture and the idea of insurance inherently clash.

“Some people don’t believe in insurance,” said Jones. “You have to give them a ticket every time you see them driving.”

The Cross Plains United Fire Relief Fund was set up in the days following the fire through the Texas Heritage Bank to assist these and other fire victims left with little or nothing.

But some things can’t be replaced. Sherrell said his wife, an artists, lost about 50 original paintings. They lost their cat. He lost his gun collection and a number of family heirlooms, including an old butter mold.

“It’s made a million pounds of butter,” Sherrell said. “I got up that morning played with that cat, drank some coffee. Didn’t have any idea what was going to happen that day.”